Cutting out on consumption of red and processed meat consumption would not only prompt a fall in chronic diseases, but our carbon footprint would shrink by 28 million tonnes a year, a study suggests.
Food and drink accounts for a third of all greenhouse gas emissions attributable to UK consumers, with livestock farming accounting for around half of this proportion, owing to the large quantity of cereals and soy imported for animal feed.
Even when imported foods are taken out of the equation, the government’s 2050 target for an 80 percent cut in the UK’s carbon footprint will be unattainable without a substantial reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from livestock farming, the authors, citing the Committee on Climate Change, said.
Previously published evidence shows that the risks of coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and bowel cancer rise by 42 percent, 19 percent, and 18 percent respectively, with every additional 50 grams of red and processed meat eaten daily.
The authors used responses to the 2000-2001 British National Diet and Nutrition Survey to estimate red and processed meat intake across the UK population and published data from life cycle analyses to quantify average greenhouse gas emissions for 45 different food categories.
They then devised a feasible counterfactual alternative, based on a doubling of the proportion of survey respondents who said they were vegetarian—to 4.7 percent of men and 12.3 percent of women—and the remainder adopting the same diet as those in the bottom fifth of red and processed meat consumption.
According to the survey, those in the top five of consumption list, ate 2.5 times as much as those in the bottom fifth.
Therefore, adopting the diet of those eating the least red and processed meat would mean cutting average consumption from 91 to 53 grams a day for men and from 54 to 30 grams for women.
The calculations showed that this would significantly cut the risk of coronary artery disease, diabetes, and bowel cancer by between 3 and 12 percent across the population as a whole.
And this reduction in risk would be more than twice as much as the population averages for those at the top end of consumption who moved to the bottom end.
Furthermore, the expected reduction in greenhouse gas emissions would amount to 0.45 tonnes per person per year, or just short of 28 million tonnes of the equivalent of CO2 a year.
The findings are published in the online only journal BMJ Open.